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Napoleon Ortigoza; was political prisoner

WASHINGTON -- Napoleon Ortigoza, the Paraguayan army cavalry officer who became one of the world's longest-serving political prisoners as a victim of despot Alfredo Stroessner, died Tuesday at a hospital in the capital city of Asuncion after a heart attack. He was 73.

Jailed on a fraudulent murder charge, then tortured and kept from his lawyer for 25 years, Mr. Ortigoza often was compared to African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela in South Africa for the length of time he endured confinement.

After his release in 1987, Mr. Ortigoza was held under a vague form of house arrest and fled the country through diplomatic help. When a new Paraguayan regime ousted Stroessner, Mr. Ortigoza returned but declined to be feted as a celebrity.

In 1996, the country's supreme court cleared him of all charges, finding that his murder confession had been obtained through torture. Despite that and some financial compensation ordered by the state's human rights ombudsman, Mr. Ortigoza remained bitter about the continued freedom of Stroessner and Ramon Duarte Vera, the former chief of police who became Paraguay's ambassador to Bolivia.

''I don't want to see Duarte Vera and Stroessner die for what they did," Mr. Ortigoza said in 1988. ''I just want them to know what it is like to be put in solitary confinement for 18 years in a cell one meter by two."

Landlocked Paraguay had a legacy of dictators who ignited civil unrest and were partly responsible for chronic poverty. Thirty presidents ruled from 1870 to 1932, followed by several strongmen.

Among the worst was Stroessner, a general who commanded the armed forces and led to power a splinter group of the dominant Colorado Party. Stroessner, now 93, ruled from 1954 to 1989, when he was overthrown and settled in exile in Brazil.

Although Stroessner's absolute rule encouraged some foreign investments, his abuses of human rights and the country's evolution as a major drug producer stained his accomplishments.

Captain Modesto Napoleon Ortigoza Gomez, born Feb. 12, 1932, in Atyra, Paraguay, was one of the most visible victims of the Stroessner regime. In the army from 1949, the dashing cavalryman graduated at the top of his class and seemed to have a promising career.

Mr. Ortigoza's arrest on Dec. 17, 1962, was meant to warn the military from acting against Stroessner. As a twist, he was charged with killing an army cadet who was purported to have discovered the coup plot.

A military court found him guilty, but he probably was saved from the firing squad because of a Franciscan priest, who announced on a Radio Caritas program that the captain was not guilty of the cadet's death.

Mr. Ortigoza received a commuted sentence of 25 years.

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